Friday, October 28, 2011

3x05 "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" (Are YOU Crazy?)

"Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps"
Original Airdate: October 27, 2011

First off, welcome back from a week hiatus! Secondly, welcome to Halloween at Greendale! As any fan of the show knows, Community prides itself, truly, on its Halloween episodes. And it seems that - much like paintball - when given the task of "topping" a previous episode, this show always exceeds expectations. "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" is no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, perhaps even more than last year's Halloween episode (though it's hard to say for sure because I feel like every week I've been crowning that particular week's episode as my "favorite"). As with 3x02, the apple of my eye in this episode is Britta. I thought that she owned "Geography of Global Conflict." Friends, in comparison with this episode, she totally Britta'd 3x02. More on that in a little while, though. Let's kick off our review and delve into the world of spooky stories, shall we?

So we open this week's episode with Britta preparing a spread of snacks for the group's pre-Halloween party (which turns out to be a ruse so that Britta can psychoanalyze everyone). And this is why I love Britta Perry. I thought that Annie's snack-spread in "Asian Population Studies" (tropical Skittles, cigarettes, and mouthwash) was hilarious. Again, I was mistaken. Britta's snacks include: Lucky Charms (with hardly any marshmallows, and everyone knows that without those, life is awful), Fruit Loops, donuts (one partially eaten), some chocolate, and taco shells (...for the Dean's taco meat!). What I love about Britta is that her attempts are always noble - she always has the best intentions, going into things. And then - because she's Britta - everything fails. Usually quite epically. Like her snack spread.

The study group doesn't seem to be too keen on spending time together for a pre-party (sidenote: Troy and Abed are wearing Inspector Spacetime costumes!), because they want to go to the Halloween dance. Britta, however, is on a mission and cannot be deterred. So she summons Jeff to the side. Their conversation goes as follows:

Britta: Jeff, can I have a quick conversation with you?
Jeff: Doubtful, but I support the dream.

So, I really do love Jeff and Britta together, and episodes like this demonstrate why. Their dynamic throughout the episode is reminiscent of "Romantic Expressionism" and "The Science of Illusion." I honestly love when these two pair up as friends/cohorts. Romantically, Jeff/Britta really doesn't do anything for me - they're too similar and bring out the worst, a lot of times, in one another. But when they are attempting to plot together, they are comedic gold. Also, I really love how we can see character growth in Jeff throughout the episode. I think that one of the most significant differences - if you compare the previous two Halloween episodes - between "Introduction to Statistics" and "Seven Spooky Steps" is that Jeff now cares about this group and their feelings. In 1x07, Jeff does everything that he possibly can to avoid being with his group until it is inevitable that he has to assist them. In 2x06, Jeff slouches around as the guy who is too cool to be at some Greendale party (and yet goes anyway). In 3x05 (I just noticed that each Halloween episode is progressively earlier), Jeff still has his snark and his I-could-care-less-about-this attitude, and yet there's this moment where Britta asks him if people are using her name to mean 'make a small mistake' and where season 1 and 2 Jeff may have corrected her and said something like "Uh no, it means epic fail," season 3 Jeff looks at Britta for a moment before lying to her in order to spare her feelings. It was the smallest moment of the episode for me, but also a great significant factor to me in character growth.

But I am digressing, and you all really just want me to discuss everyone's "scary stories." First, let me note that the continuity fairy frequents this episode a lot and it's pretty much why I love Community in the first place. It's so easy for shows to gloss over what has happened in seasons past, and act like the audience has forgotten all about episodes and plots and character arcs. Community is so self-referencing that it uses Troy to call back things like the taco meat (which we, of course, know is the root of the zombie Halloween episode last season) and how Britta lived in New York. This show always, always rewards its viewers and I think that is one of the primary reasons that I love it so much. Every reference like that, no matter how small, is like a personal thank-you note for watching.

So, in our plot for the episode, Britta tells Jeff that she ran personality tests on the group last week, and that one of the tests came back with 70/75 markers for an extreme personality disorder. Britta is really quite concerned that one of their group members has the potential to be a homicidal maniac, so she enlists Jeff to help her discover which person it is. In order to determine who is the psychopath, Britta decides to tell a scary story and gauge their reactions to determine who is the crazy person.

Each of these stories plays out in the distinct voice of the character telling the story. It's quite hilarious that both Britta and Shirley (who evidently don't tell many scary stories) begin their stories with "Once upon a time..." The blonde then proceeds to roll some horror movie cliches into one story (a couple making out in a car in the woods), dripping with dry sarcasm and distinct feminism (portraying Jeff as the male jerk who ends up dying because he decides to get out of the car). Britta ends her story in a way that only Britta would, by having her character scream: "Oh my God, no! I was right!"

The study group finds her story lame (because she pretty much Britta'd it), and Abed notes the reasons why. He then proceeds to tell his own story which is flawlessly Abed - perfectly snappy, witty, but direct and sharp. I think that Abed's story is one of the first instances that I realized Abed was the normal one. Or, perhaps he's just the most rational. See, every other story that the characters tell is based on emotion, or more specifically, the emotions of the characters who are telling it. While I don't think that this is a commentary specifically on how emotions are a hindrance (or how Abed's lack of emotion is necessary), I think it's just interesting to juxtapose Abed (the "crazy" one) and his story (which is the most normal and rational) with all of the others'. His is the only sane story. And here we are again - remember how I said in my "Biology 101" commentary that I think we were meant to re-think how we view Jeff as the "leader" of the study group this season? Well, I think that this episode was meant to re-think how we view Abed as the "crazy" one, when in all actuality, he's the most psychologically sane.

Anyway, we then come to Annie's story. And so at this point we are under the assumption that every story tells us something about the characters who are telling it. And that's understandable. Annie's story (initially, we'll get to the ending in a bit) begins with how I would expect an Annie-story to begin - romantic and fanciful. It seems natural. And this story is also a commentary on the Jeff/Annie/Britta triangle (or how Annie sees it). Because here's the thing - Annie's "scary story" was (at the beginning, at least) reality. Let's analyze it, because I'm in an analyzing mood (I blame this episode):
  • Jeff, in the story, is a monster but Annie is drawn to him. And he's drawn to her. Because the fact is that Annie sees the good in people all the time. She can't help it. And Abed and Annie are alike in this way - they see the world a certain way because it's better than accepting it for how it really is.
  • It's clear that real!Jeff and real!Annie have feelings there, and the complicating factor is Jeff. In Annie's story (and perhaps in real life as well), he's torn because he wants to act on those feelings, but wants to preserve the innocence of Annie (so he turns to used-up Britta to compensate). Maybe he's torn because he doesn't believe there's enough good inside of him (throwback to my "Biology 101" commentary again). Or perhaps just not ENOUGH good to deserve Annie.
  • And look, I don't mean that Britta and Jeff don't care for one another. I think they do, to an extent. I think that Jeff has always returned to what he knows - what is familiar and easy. And Britta allows herself to be that person (she also asks story!Annie to not judge her for it). She's used as a sort of in-between by him, and she's fine with it (and that's what is scary to Annie). It appalls story!Annie (and probably real!Annie)
  • And yet, at the end of that section of the tale (when Jeff gives into what he wants - albeit with Britta rather than Annie), he can't let Annie go without trying to be better.
  • I think that I would have definitely expected this of season 1 and season 2 Annie, all the way up to the post-readings scene. It's very school-girl and naive and fanciful. It's Annie, and we've come to expect her as the good-natured one who really just keeps waiting around for Jeff - who puts up with how he toys with her emotions and doesn't give her answers.
  • "You should be proud of how much I've changed you." Oh, there's a novel's worth of ideas in that statement alone. Because I think that Annie DOES kind of pride herself in that aspect of her relationship with Jeff.
  • And then... Annie's story becomes AWESOME because she turns into a werewolf and kills vampire!Jeff. I love this because it's an indicator of how this season Annie's not taking any crap. She's going to grow up, and she's GOING to demand answers and respect and not be treated a certain way anymore. And she's awesome when she's like this.
Rightfully, everyone looks terrified at this story, especially Jeff. It's hilarious. Troy's not having any of it, though. "That's enough," he says. "Stop pinning ribbons to her. Why does Annie get to be good at everything?" Troy's story, then, is perfectly Troy - he's with Abed, Pierce is the villain, and he and Abed are doing awesome things (like being fighter pilots). It's so Troy too because instead of using really big, fancy descriptions or transforming the cabin into something like Annie's story, he uses really Troy-like phrases and words. It was also a really good representation of the Pierce/Troy/Abed dynamic (which is prevalent this season).

And then we get to Pierce's story. Which...oh, Pierce. It's basically how he would like his life to be, I think, if it were a movie - the successful hero with women and brandy. Rightfully so, everyone seems disgusted by the story (Annie and Britta's reactions are priceless, as is Jeff's). 

Shirley laments that scary stories used to be about good versus evil, and therefore begins her own story utilizing a horror trope - partying teenagers in the woods who end up dying. Here's something cool to note that I didn't realize until Shirley's story - notice how the decorations in the cabin change depending on who is telling the story. Also, notice who Shirley pairs together in the story - Troy/Annie and Jeff/Britta. I like that this is a reflection of her character as well. Shirley's story is like a hell-fire and brimstone sermon, with the Dean playing the Devil (also a nice callback: Jeff summoning the Dean). At the end of the story, Yvette Nicole Brown does this fantastic "preach-it" voice.

Britta begins to freak out when everyone starts to leave her pre-party, and she hastily explains the reason she had called them all there in the first place. The group turns the tables on Britta, however, when they remind her that she too took the exam and could potentially be a homicidal maniac. Just as Annie tells everyone to calm down, the lights go out. Everyone panics and grabs weapons, yelling at each group member. Hilariously, these are their weapons of choice:
  • Shirley - a broken bottle
  • Abed - a folding chair
  • Troy - Wolverine-like pencil claws
  • Pierce - a fire extinguisher
  • Annie (I half-expected her to bust out her gun from 3x04) - a pair of scissors
  • Britta (she actually has a legitimate weapon) - a knife
  • Jeff - his wit and charm... oh, wait...
Jeff tells his own story to calm the group down. It seems to be a Christmas-themed story that is quick, lame, and sappy. And it ends in everyone hugging their would-be murderer (Chang) because he was in need of love. It's a Winger cop-out, as I'll explain in a minute.

Annie examines the test and her face when she realizes what Britta did (ran the scantrons through the machines upside-down) is priceless. So, after Britta runs the tests through the machines correctly, she displays the tests and the group realizes that only one test displays a normal result. The group wonders whether or not they should attempt to discover who the sane person is, and Shirley responds with "or we could hold onto the comforting notion that any one of us might be sane." 

Ironically - as someone mentioned in a comment for 3x04 - Abed gave a Winger-speech in "Remedial Chaos Theory" and Britta gave the typical end-of-episode speech in 3x05. I like this. So below, I captured a screenshot of the exams and - based on how I can read them, as red representing a correlation between something negative (like the potential for a personality disorder) - this is the proposed order of sane to insane: 
  1. Abed
  2. Annie
  3. Jeff
  4. Troy
  5. Britta
  6. Shirley
  7. Pierce

I think I quite like the order of this. I'm not sure exactly why yet, but it seems to make sense.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
  • The flickering lights was a nice gag.
  • Joel looked very nice this episode too. I need my own side-blog for how nice he looks every episode. I wonder how many people would subscribe...
  • "Extreme, Jeff." "Like a Dorito?" "Like a sociopathic Dorito. A Cool Ranch lunatic."
  • The radio announcer for Britta's story was hilarious.
  • When Abed insisted on humming the whole radio song in his story, I died laughing. (Also, notice that Troy is grooving along)
  • The montage of vampire!Jeff learning to read is hilarious.
  • "NO! I'm legit jealous!"
  • In Pierce's story, when Troy is the thug, there is a pacifier around his neck.
  • "Thank you for saving us, Shirley! I mean... your name's not Shirley. This is a story about strangers. Anywho..."
  • "Wow. You Britta'd Britta'd."
If I am correct, next week will be 3x06 which is an episode titled "Advanced Gay" so you just know it's about Pierce (apparently about Pierce and his father, who I thought was dead). Until then, folks! Everyone have a happy Halloween. :)


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